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Padres' future bright with Margot in center

San Diego saw flashes of stardom from 23-year-old
MLB.com @AJCassavell

With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2018 Padres, breaking down the team position-by-position. Today, we preview San Diego's center fielders.

Around the Horn series: Catcher | First base | Second base | Shortstop | 3B | LF

With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2018 Padres, breaking down the team position-by-position. Today, we preview San Diego's center fielders.

Around the Horn series: Catcher | First base | Second base | Shortstop | 3B | LF

SAN DIEGO -- In his age-22 rookie season, Manuel Margot was everything the Padres could have asked for -- and then some -- in 2017.

Specifically, the Padres asked Margot to be a speedster who could be relied upon to wreak havoc at the top of the lineup, while anchoring center field with his excellent defense. Check and check.

"And then some," came at the plate, with Margot's surprising power surge. Having spent his Minor League career spraying line drives, Margot's 13 homers and .409 slugging percentage came as something of a surprise in 2017.

It started early, when Margot became the first Padres rookie in history to homer twice in the club's home opener. At the time, he was the club's top-rated prospect, a label he quickly shed with regular playing time from Day 1. Now, he's got his sights set a little higher.

"When you're able to be an impact, two-way player, that's what makes you into a superstar," Margot said toward the end of the 2017 season. "That's something that I want to be."

A lofty goal, to be sure. But the Padres feel he's capable, and they believe they've found their center fielder of the future. (Coupled with Austin Hedges behind the plate, San Diego hopes it's found a pair of anchors up the middle for the better part of the next decade.)

Of course, there's still plenty of room to grow. Margot batted .263/.313/.409 with 17 steals -- all numbers he'd like to improve upon.

Defensively, Margot was one of the best in baseball during the second half of the season. But he battled a calf injury in May, and his performance in the first half was middling. He's since proclaimed a desire to win a Gold Glove, a goal that might not be too far off. Only Billy Hamilton posted a higher Defensive Runs Saved than Margot's eight last season.

Video: ARI@SD: Margot lays out for five-star catch

In any case, Margot's spot is clearly secure in center.

"I feel pretty good, first day of the season, saying Manny will be out in center for us," Padres manager Andy Green said.

Behind Margot in the pecking order, things get a bit more interesting.

Matt Szczur, who came over from the Cubs midseason, is out of options and is viewed as a valuable roster piece. He's the early favorite to serve as Margot's backup (while likely backing up in right and left field as well).

But Travis Jankowski will be given a chance to bounce back from his injury-riddled 2017 campaign. Having established himself as a useful fourth outfielder in 2016, Jankowski sustained a broken bone in his foot three weeks into the 2017 season. He wouldn't return until September and played only 27 games.

There could be room on the roster for both, should the Padres carry five primary outfielders. But No. 12 prospect Franchy Cordero could push them. Cordero, a left-handed power hitter, made a midseason cameo for the Padres. His contact rate was disappointing. (Cordero struck out 44 times in 92 at-bats.) But at 23, the club hopes he's young enough to correct that. Cordero's raw tools -- namely his speed, power and defense -- could entice the Padres to take another look at him in San Diego in 2018.

Projected starter: Margot

Potential backups: Szczur, Jankowski, Cordero

Top-30 prospects: No. 12 Cordero, No. 17 Jeisson Rosario, No. 21 Michael Gettys, No. 24 Edward Olivares

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres